Monday, December 22, 2008

More Truth Than You Know

If you look closely you will be able to detect hints and whispers of the gospel's Christmas even in the classic shows that are broadcast on television. I doubt if it is done on purpose except possibly in the case of the Charlie Brown Christmas special. There seems to be a universal longing for the the good, better and best in people and situations that is sorely lacking. You see this lacking, this missing, this discontent, and the mournful in Christmas shows and cartoons. I know you aren't following me yet so consider the island of misfit toys from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the Christmas tree in Charlie Brown's special, the broken down old building and loan from It's a Wonderful Life, and the Grinch's heart in the Dr. Seuss re-telling of a Scrooge-type character. Now you're starting to see it. In every good Christmas story there is something wrong, broken, missing, abandoned or downright mean messing up an otherwise orderly life. Further, you could plug these stories into the gospel and end up in a good place or better, plug the gospel into these stories and end up in a better place. What if the Shepherds in the gospel of Luke were played by the toys from the island of misfit toys in Rudolph the RNR? The shepherds were regarded as misfits. So the Charlie-in-the-Box, Hermey the Misfit Elf (remember, he wanted to be a dentist), the spotted elephant, bird-fish(the bird who swam)and Cowboy(he had to ride an ostrich) could find their place in the gospel story. Which means, of course, that all of us who have misfit ways, different dreams, and move through life never at the pace the world thinks we should move, find our rhythm in worshipping Jesus. Following this leading, the broken down old building and loan from It's a Wonderful Life could play the stable and manger in our re-telling of the gospel. George Bailey struggled with that old business most of his life. It kept him from bigger dreams and traveling to exotic places. Yet, in the end it held the town together and helped many others find their home in a world run by the old men Potters who could have cared less. No doubt the owner of the stable thought little of his stable but God thought enough of it to make His entrance there. Most of us spend our days wondering if we really make any real difference. One day we will know and we will see not through a glass darkly but through the Light of the World shined on those old things we thought kept us from a wonderful life. Then we will see that it was those very things that God used to advance His kindom and agenda in ways we could never imagine. All good stories have an antagonist. In Matthew's gospel you meet King Herod, who, was not unlike the Grinch Who Stole Christmas. The Grinch had a heart that was two sizes too small. Many question if Herod had a heart at all. Much heartache was caused by Herod. He had his own two sons executed as he thought them wanting his throne. At his death he had two popular Jewish teachers and their students burned to death to insure there would be someone mourning at the time of his own death.Then there is the death of the innocents in Bethlehem. But history tells us that within 4 years of Jesus' birth, he was no more. So we don't celebrate "Herod-mas" and don't so much as name our dogs after him. Evil exists. Sometimes, like with the Grinch, it repents and changes. In Herod's case, his evil died with him. There is plenty of evil left in the world but we know from Herod, Hitler, Ahab, Pilate, Nero, Domitian, and any other despot that they die. One day we will add Osama bin Laden and Robert Mugabe to the list. Someone else will pick up where they left off. One day God will take evil off every one's list. Our Christmas list will be much easier then and our hearts will be big enough to fill it. Admittedly, finding a place for Charlie Brown's scraggly little bent-over tree has been harder to plug into the story of Christ's birth from the gospels. Misfits, Grinches, Building and Loans, yes. But where does the left over Christmas tree come in? Then I figured it out. That's me. That's where I plug into the story. God's not through decorating me yet. I won't stand still enough some time to let Him work. I keep dropping ornaments and breaking them. But God is relentless. He just doesn't stop working. And if you have been bent out of shape, lost your needles, felt like you didn't grow like everyone else, abandoned at the back of the lot, and in general felt unloved, then the Christmas story is what you most need to hear. To the misfits, in out-of-the-way places, in spite of Grinches, God shows up to love those needing it the most. And the last time I checked, that includes everyone. Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God... John 1:12 Merry Christmas 2008 Terry

Monday, December 15, 2008

A Christmas Without

It's not good to set out the nativity scene when you're mad at the preacher. All that stuff he wrote about no donkey, no wise men, no innkeeper or stable just ticked her off. She fairly slammed Melchior down beside the manger. "Well, MY nativity scene has wise men!" It was at that moment that the tears came and Fran just slumped down on the floor beside the hearth. After a few minutes she gathered her thoughts again and tried to figure out where that outburst came from. It probably wasn't just the pastor's article. It was everything else that happened that year. Her divorce was nine months past and her ex wasn't around last Christmas but it still hurt and still made her mad. Her dad's health had taken a downturn and he would spend this Christmas in the nursing home. Fran hated that prospect. The kids were grown with their own traditions for family to take care of and wouldn't be in until later on Christmas day. That magnified the loneliness of decorating a tree and trying to put out the Christmas cheer with no one to enjoy it. The thoughts that haunted her the most were about her oldest grandson who would spend this Christmas in Afghanistan. The fear and sadness were too much some days. Fran remembered to stop a moment and count her blessings. She had two days off work for Christmas and had two vacation days left so she could rest, cook, and enjoy the kids and grand kids when they finally would make it in. She had survived the latest round of layoffs at work and she was thankful for the job. Of course, everyone who remained was expected to pick up the extra work. If she could just hang on a few more years she would seriously considering retirement. That's another reason to be mad at the man she once called husband. No sooner had the anger begin to rise again when came the interruption of the doorbell. It was Jackson, next door neighbor's youngest child. She wiped her face, put on a semi-fake smile and opened the door. "Say Jack, wassup?" He giggled at the way she said that. " Not much, Fran. Mom wanted you to have these cookies and I wanted to ask you a question." "Fire away, Jackson." "Well, our kid's choir is singing at church tonight and I was wondering if you could come. I've got a song I sing by myself. Anyway, I hope you can come. It starts at 6. Bye." Judging by the loose wrapper on the plate and the chocolate on his face, Fran figured Jackson had tested one of the cookies on his way to her door. How do you tell a nine year old with chocolate chip cookie on his face "no?" So Fran guessed she would be at church tonight. The kids were cute. Jackson sang very well. But the most remarkable thing about that evening were the songs. They weren't really sung any better than most kid's choirs. She just needed to hear the simple truths of the Christmas carols again. It was going to be a Christmas without a husband; a grandson without his family in a faraway place; a father without his own home. In this year of brokenness, loneliness, anger, doubt, fear, and exhaustion the Christmas songs reminded her of why there was a Christmas in the first place. The world was broken, fearful, exhausted, and alone without God in their lives. So He came. Fran thought to herself that there were many things she was without this Christmas. She laughed at herself for getting mad at the preacher earlier. Maybe there was no donkey at the first Christmas, or no wise men or no innkeeper but the world was not without a Savior. He is Immanuel- God with us. Terry Quote wanted from Sunday's sermon(12-14-08)"Joy is dancing to a rhythm the world cannot hear but the heart faithful to Jesus cannot miss." author unknown

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Gate Crashers I live in a gated community. I pastor a church in a gated community. I had trouble wrapping my mind around that concept before I came to pastor White Bluff Chapel. Churches don't hide behind gates was my reasoning. Churches are "out there," open to all, working along side the common man. How can a church function with New Testament conviction when you have to pass through a security guard to get in? The curtain in the temple was torn in two at Jesus' crucifixion to tear down racial, religious, gender, and class barriers to God and one another. It seems at first glance to go against the current of kingdom mission to live behind gates. The leadership of the church assured me that the gate was no barrier to church attendance or ministry performance and mission. I trusted them and believed. I have come to see the truth of their convictions over the past few months and see how diligent the Chapel works to see that much goes out that gate in terms of resources spent, effort exerted, food shared, and service rendered. But I still eyed warily that gate at the entrance, living at an uneasy peace with it. Then I discovered something else inside the gates: people. There are people here who need the Lord who have yet to come to know Him as Savior. There are people here who need to grow in their faith and service to Christ. There are people here with great hearts, talents, and resources who live to serve their Lord. With these kinds of people in White Bluff, what should be the response of the church at large and the local church in particular? The bottom line is we need to be in White Bluff sharing the gospel, growing in the grace, knowledge and service in the kingdom. And so we are. There is another observance about the gate at the entrance. This came as no surprise, however. We have way too many gate crashers at White Bluff. I don't blame the security personnel. I don't blame the management or the property owners association. I know of no way to keep out some of these unwanted visitors. They pay no attention to the gate or the rules. They show up uninvited, unwanted, and almost never leave when you ask. Who are these interlopers? They have different names. Some are called disease, illness, sickness. Some of these are short-timers, some move in to stay. I've seen cancer crash the gate. I've seen Alzheimer's run around the barriers. From colds to colostomies the family of unhealth pours through the gates and over the fences to bring their poisons to our families. It's not just illness, either that crashes our fences. Divorce finds its way past our defenses. Children and grandchildren's issues ring our doorbells. Lately, many people's finances fell more often that the putts on the golf courses. And as too many know, death comes over the covered bridge, past the retaining walls, tramps on pretty yards, and invades homes simple and extravagant. Life crashes our gates and you can't stop it. But fortunately it's not just the bad side that comes on in. Grace dances right past the guards. Hope floats on the lake, in the pools and into the homes. Forgiveness comes into the bedrooms and living rooms and love has yet to discover its boundaries. So it seems to me that since these gate crashers, both good and bad are here, its best to prepare for them. We do that by asking the Lord who brings down barriers but won't crash the heart, to please come in. Once asked, He gives strength to the weak, binds up the wounds of the broken hearted , grants freedom to those imprisoned by doubt and hurt, and helps us to share His goodness. There is another place with gates we do well to take note of. It is found in Revelation 21: 22-27. There is a difference in our gates now, but there won't be forever. Hear the promise of that city where on no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. Nothing impure will ever enter it...but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life. In the meantime we live a crash course in life but we need not live it alone. The Christ and His church are here, within our gates and without, which is right where we all live. And we who have been invaded in turn invade this life with His grace, love and joy. 'Till all the gates are open, Terry